and Resistance

A widespread perception, both within and outside Turkey, is that there is something unique about its relationship with and place in ‘Europe’. What other country, after all, is at one and the same time the quintessential ‘Other’ of the European collective imagination, a core member of the European strategic alliance, and a controversial candidate for inclusion in the European Union? Tellingly, arguments both for and against Turkish membership of the EU cite its geography, size, demographics, and economy, as well as history, culture, and religion, as compelling reasons for its place – or lack thereof – in Europe. Yet if there is one thing common to visions of Europe in countries on the continent’s limes, it is a sense of exceptionalism about the dilemmas faced in engaging with Europe. As the chapters in this volume reveal, pundits in many successor states of the Austro‐Hungarian and Ottoman Empires have produced narratives in which ‘Europe’ is construed as both beacon and threat. Góra and Mach (Chapter 11), for example, juxtapose Polish calls for a ‘return to Europe’ as panacea for economic and political woes, and nativist fears for the integrity of Polish culture. Barbu too (Chapter 12), points to the Romanian intellectual tradition of critiquing ‘Europe’ as a site of modern, rational, bureaucratic, capitalist disenchantment which is contrasted with an ‘East’ said to serve as a bastion of ‘authentic’ European religiosity and culture. For Pagoulatos and Yataganas (Chapter 9), a similar dichotomy is evident in discourses on the fringes of contemporary Greek intellectual and political life. To what extent, then, is the ambivalence that animates Turkish intellectuals’ European dilemma unique, and what does the answer tell us about the nature and prospects of the relationship?

We address this question by suggesting that certain features of Turkish discourses on Europe are fairly constant both over time and across the political spectrum at any given time. Other elements, however, appear contingent upon the proclivities of particular intellectuals and the intellectual traditions to (p.295) which they adhere, as well as evolving domestic and international context. The interplay between the more constant and more contingent features means that intellectuals’ views on ‘Europe’ span a spectrum. They range from those who advocate selective engagement, to those who take a syncretic approach, to those who call for unequivocalconvergence with that which they understand ‘Europe’ to represent. Employing this spectrum as a heuristic device, this chapter traces continuity and change in several schools of thought on ‘Europe’ from the inception of Ottoman Westernization to the present. It does so by schematically showcasing the views of specific intellectuals as representative of different traditions of thought. It then turns to key moments in the 1999–2009 period during which public debates on ‘Europe’ were particularly intense in light of Turkey’s acquisition of candidate status to the EU in 1999.

Before proceeding, it is worth clarifying that we use the term ‘intellectual’ loosely to refer to individuals such as journalists, political activists, novelists, poets, and spiritual leaders who shape public debates. Since the nineteenth century, such figures have confronted Turkey’s European dilemma, or ‘Western question’ (Berkes1975) – through editorials and serialized publications in newspapers, journals, books, and, more recently, televised debates. The considerable deference accorded such personalities is evident in the large contingents of columnists employed by even minor newspapers. In the Turkish context, especially seen from a historical point of view, bureaucrats and politicians have also fulfilled the function of public intellectuals in the sense of defining the parameters of debate on Turkey’s place in ‘Europe’. The emphasis in this chapter is therefore on perceptions of ‘Europe’ as they relate to intellectuals’ political views.

Bearing this in mind, it is also important to note that political labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘left’, and ‘Kemalist’ and ‘Islamist’ are quite ambivalent in the Turkish context. Figures who are often described – and describe themselves – as affiliated with these camps espouse ideas which might display a modicum of, say, liberal thought in terms of a commitment to certain tenets of liberal democracy, but which are also infused with layers of meaning idiosyncratic to their experience and the Turkish context more broadly (such as prior affiliation with the radical left). Likewise, except for members of the bona fide but short‐lived communist movement of the 1910s and early 1920s which was crushed following independence, Turkish ‘leftists’ share a commitment to redistributive policies. But their views tend to be informed above all by anti‐imperialism and may be fused with a range of preferences from étatisme to Alevi collective identity and even Kurdish nationalism. ‘Kemalism’ meanwhile is a label early republican followers of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk may not have used, but it is regularly ascribed to such figures as well as those today who are passionately committed to the tenets of Atatürkist thought. Finally, ‘Islamist’, and even the notion of ‘moderate Islamist’, carries connotations of radicalism in English which obscure the particularities of religious‐informed political thought in (p.296) Turkey, especially today. We nevertheless employ these labels as a chapter of this length cannot aspire to propose a new and unfamiliar pantheon of signifiers. We ask only that the reader recognize that such terms may not correspond precisely to the meanings they bear in continental Europe or Britain.

Constant and contingent features of narratives of ‘Europe’

We argue that there are a number of constant as well as contingent features to Turkish intellectuals’ discourses on ‘Europe’. Constant features of any narrative, as Freeden might argue, are not stable but rather ‘ineliminable’ themes the precise meaning of which at any point in time depends upon their association with other, contingent elements.1 The source of constants in Turkish narratives of Europe may be the structural condition of relative weakness that has prevailed since at least the nineteenth century. At that time, the Ottomans were compelled to renounce their own universalistic pretentions to launch a project of defensive modernization based on the selective adoption of technologies and ideas emanating from Western Europe. From the mid‐1800s onwards, a consensus emerged amongst the Ottoman reformist intelligentsia and leadership that the material aspects of ‘European’ civilization, including the modern state and instruments of government, reflected and contributed to progress. Commitment to a ‘European’ programme for change was heightened, ironically enough, by the experience of defeat and near‐dismemberment at Allied hands after the First World War. At that juncture, the traumatized founding fathers upped the ante, rebuilding Turkey as a sovereign nation‐state in accordance with models prevalent in contemporary Europe. The intense, if paradoxically defensive, project of Westernization was amplified by the secularist cultural revolution, undertaken much to the chagrin of Islamist quarters. Yet many amongst religious cadres, like their counterparts in the secularist camp, continue to this day to endorse the task of achieving ‘contemporary’, i.e. European, civilization, at least in material terms.

Coming of age in a world circumscribed by European hegemony and its legacy means that for the Turkish intellectual there is something ubiquitous about the signifier ‘Europe’ regardless of the substance attributed to the concept. For, at each step along the way, it was public intellectuals who interpreted and transmitted the ‘European’ experience as they understood it to the political classes and public. Even advocates of alternative paths to modernity were compelled to do so through juxtaposition with what they took to be the ‘European’ way. This is reflected in the very word that renders the concept of ‘intellectual’ in Turkish: aydin. Literally meaning ‘one who is enlightened’, it (p.297) could be read as privileging the rationalist and positive knowledge of the Enlightenment thinker. Indeed, a recurrent and self‐disparaging feature of many intellectuals’ discourse is lamentation that the country has not produced intellectuals of the calibre of a Descartes or Newton. Even those who reject this view, such as Islamists or ultranationalists, assert that debates in Turkey are feeble precisely because Westernist intellectuals display this self‐Orientalizing tendency.

The historically subordinate subject position gives rise to at least three constant or ineliminable features of discourses on ‘Europe’. One such feature is the enduring resonance of certain traumatic episodes in the Turkish collective imagination. These include the so‐called ‘Capitulations’2 and ‘Sèvres’3 syndromes, which emanate from the experience of semi‐colonization by the Great Powers during the late Ottoman period. The visceral power of such memories – and their mobilizing potential – are reinforced by cognizance of the negative perception of Muslim peoples in certain European quarters, both historically and in the post‐9/11 context.4These neuralgic buttons are pressed – sometimes reflexively, sometimes instrumentally – by public intellectuals across the political spectrum, especially at times when relations with European actors are volatile.

A second effect of power asymmetry is a tendency to view ‘Europe’ not as a complex heterogeneous enterprise, but as a given, a foil to intellectuals’ own struggle to understand the challenges associated with processes of modernization in Turkey. Part and parcel of this is a tendency to treat ‘Europe’ as a monolithic actor. Thus, with the exception of a small community of academic and policy experts on European affairs, intellectuals habitually refer to entities such as the EU, its constituent organs, member states, the Council of Europe (CoE), its European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and similar bodies as one amorphous ‘European’ entity. At other times, the notion of ‘Europe’ is elided with ‘the West’, as was the case throughout the Cold War.5 This is almost a reflex: when pressed, most intellectuals are aware of European diversity yet the habit of referring to ‘Europe’ in monolithic terms is pervasive nonetheless. It means, furthermore, that interest in developments in ‘Europe’ per se comes second to concern for how such developments impact upon relations with (p.298) Turkey. An important if somewhat tautological corollary of this is that Turkish estimations of ‘Europe’ tend to fluctuate in tandem with Turkish assessments of the justice or injustice of ‘European’ treatment of Turks (Fisher Onar2009a). This can fuel a selective reading of European debates on Turkey, which either exaggerates the centrality of Turkey to a particular question, or hones in on negative representations of the country by European actors whilst ignoring neutral or positive views.

The vision of ‘Europe’ as a static set of givens has a further important consequence: a tendency to treat ‘Europe’ as a menu. This gives rise to a habit of selectivity, a belief that some items on the menu may be ingested whilst others are best avoided. The tendency is evident in the considerable consensus since at least the late Ottoman era on the desirability of adopting the material aspects of ‘European’ civilization from which European actors’ strength was thought to emanate (e.g. military technologies, scientific innovations, the industrial mode of production, a bureaucratized, centralized state).6 It is likewise apparent in the lack of commensurate consensus on adoption of ‘European’ norms and values.7 Thus, since the late Ottoman period, we encounter figures who limit their engagement to selective importation of hardware and know‐how, like the early modernizing sultans. Others went further, seeking synthesis by embedding ‘European’ conceptions of liberal, democratic governance into an Ottoman‐Islamic idiom. The Islamist‐rooted Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi– AKP) has recently displayed a similar syncretic impulse by defending the Muslim veil as both right and religious obligation (Fisher Onar 2009b). Still others have advocated unequivocal adoption of (their reading of) ‘European’ norms and values. The case par excellence is surely republican rejection of the dynastic and religious sources of Ottoman authority and importation of civil, penal, and family law from extant European codes.

Yet norms and values are internalized in specific contexts, and in time these change – for ‘Europe’, of course, is not uniform or static. Altered circumstances can lead to a renewed drive for convergence, or to expressions of resistance. For example, Kemalist Westernism – like that of the Young Turks – entailed a powerful will to adopt both the material and normative/institutional features of ‘European’ civilization in the 1920s and 1930s, from the nation‐state form of socio‐political organization to secularism (or, more precisely, laïcité). Today, however, attraction to the EU is diminished by the requirement of relinquishing sovereignty in certain key areas. It is also muted by concern that EU‐accession‐oriented democratization could endanger secularism by empowering populist pro‐religious political forces and eliminating the reserve domain allotted to the military as guardian of secularism. Thus, there is considerable contingency in (p.299) discourses on ‘Europe’. Contingency is a function of the preferences of an individual and the intellectual tradition to which s/he subscribes, as well as of evolving domestic and international circumstances.

In short, there are a number of structurally induced ineliminable features common to Turkish intellectuals’ perceptions of Europe both across the political spectrum and over time. These include a tendency to perceive ‘Europe’ as a ubiquitous and monolithic actor, a set of traumatic memories, and a habit of regarding the ‘European’ experience as furnishing a ‘menu’ of choices. Since the late Ottoman era, most intellectuals have agreed on the need to adopt the material features of that experience, but disagreed on whether to embrace ‘European’ codes of conduct in normative terms. As such, we may situate intellectuals’ views along a spectrum that reaches from desire for convergence (with ‘European’ norms however understood) to desire for resistance. The will to converge, moreover, ranges from selective to syncretic to unequivocal, depending on the preferences of the individual intellectual and the intellectual tradition in question, and the domestic and international context. By using the spectrum as a heuristic device, and by honing in on intellectuals whose views are seminal to particular schools of thought on ‘Europe’, we may tackle the substance of perceptions from the late Ottoman period to the present. For only by understanding the interplay of constant and contingent features of intellectuals’ discourse over time can we understand the many apparent contradictions associated with different factions’ apprehensions of ‘Europe’ today.

The nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century crucible of views on ‘Europe’

There is an ongoing, highly politicized debate in Turkish historiography over whether there was greater continuity or rupture in the transition from Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic (see Fisher Onar forthcoming). What is certain is that many contemporary schools of thought have roots in the crucible of the late Ottoman/early Republican era. At this juncture, pundits across the political spectrum were gripped by the painful yet urgent question of how to adapt to pressures emanating from ascendant Western Europe. In the face of successive military defeats at the hands of European armies, early reformers engaged with ‘Europe’ by importing military expertise.8 But the invocation of French revolutionary ideals by the ideologists of the Greek War of Independence (p.300) (1821–9) – and the appeal of such ideals for other communities within the heterogeneous empire – suggested a need for deeper engagement with ‘European’ ideas and institutions (Erdem2005). Yet there was also awareness that Westernization would engender resistance amongst conservative elements within the elite and populace.

The Tanzimat reforms (1839–71) accordingly launched concerted Westernization, framed in a syncretic fashion. The Decree of Gülhane of 1839, for example, like the Imperial Reform Edict of 1856, guaranteed subjects’ life and property in terms congruent with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, but also with the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence to which the Ottoman dynasty subscribed.9 Similarly, Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, a renowned alim (religious scholar) and civil servant under multiple sultans, codified the Shari’a in accordance with Western forms. The Tanzimat led to the gradual restructuring of Ottoman state and society along European lines. In the process, however, many amongst the Tanzimat intelligentsia acquired ostentatiously Westernized habits which rankled with their juniors and conservative elements in society at large.

One group – the Young Ottomans – believed they possessed a deeper sense of what ‘Europe’ represented, and sought to synthesize European science and liberal political institutions with their vision of the Ottoman‐Muslim soul. To this end, a leading intellectual, Namik Kemal, pleaded for his countrymen to accept the example of ‘European’ civilization with regard to medicine, engineering, the arts, commerce, and advances in law, pointing to Ottoman‐Islamic sources for notions like the ‘social contract’ and ‘freedom’.10 Yet he insisted on retaining an autonomous, authentic Ottoman‐Muslim sphere:

We will accept every kind of progress achieved by Europeans.…[but] we must never become Europeans, for God’s sake. The insistence by the Muslim on not becoming Europeanized is a hundred times more apparent than it has ever been. (Hanioğlu 1995: 14)

This tendency to distinguish between desirable (science, liberal institutions) and undesirable aspects of the ‘European’ experience (ethics and religiosity, or perceived lack thereof) would prove a constant feature of pious intellectuals’ discourse over the next century. Interestingly, it also echoes the dichotomous representation of soulless Western Europe versus the spiritual ‘East’ in Orthodox Christian discourses (see, for example, the chapters on Romania and Greece in this volume).

The Young Ottoman programme failed to stem secessionism amongst non‐Muslims of the Empire. In a bid to bolster solidarity amongst remaining Muslim elements, the autocratic Abdülhamit II employed pan‐Islamist rhetoric. Ever aware, however, of the need to keep pace with developments in Europe, he also (p.301)expanded Western‐style education and military reform with the help of Prussian experts. A new generation of ‘Young Turks’ was thus exposed to European ideas. This led some to abandon the syncretism of earlier reformists and embrace the positivism of social engineers such as Saint Simon and Comte. In so doing, they established the foundations of Turkish secularism in its liberal and nationalist variants, and many travelled to European capitals as students (or political exiles). Positivism was attractive because by treating science as a religion, it facilitated what these intellectuals deemed necessary for survival in the Europe‐dominated modern world: a leap from a sacred to a rational ontology. Not all were able to weather that leap, as demonstrated by the example of one suicidal writer who diligently recorded his impressions until losing consciousness in order to prove there was no life after death. Others, like Prince Sabahattin – the father of Turkish liberalism – found meaning in works like Demolins’ ‘A Quoi Tient La Supériorité des Anglo‐Saxons’ (Kadioğlu 2007). Blaming Ottoman decline on the intrusiveness of the state and communitarianism of the people, he called for reforms to inculcate citizens with a more individualistic and entrepreneurial spirit along British lines (Mardin 1989). Still other positivists turned to constructs of ethnicity increasingly prevalent in contemporary Europe. These budding nationalists recovered from European usage the notion of the ‘Turk’, a marginal construct for the Ottomans.11

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